Texas kicked off week 5 at Iowa State. It was my first detailed watch of highly touted Longhorn LB Malik Jefferson. You can see why some people like him – his athletic ability was on display in intriguing flashes. When he sees it, or is given the freedom to attack/blitz, he looks an interesting prospect. However, he does come unstuck when blockers get on him. His hand use is poor and there were too many times when he was taken out of plays. His read and react was also a little inconsistent – his feet can get choppy, although when he eventually sees it and goes to the ball his speed is his get out of jail card. He should light up the Combine and he has clear athletic upside, but having played a lot of football, I think NFL scouts will be looking for a little more than he showed in this one to think he would be a top 50 pick. Of course, his Combine numbers might blind someone – not like it would be the first time that happened.
Iowa State WR Allen Lazard has enjoyed a productive career and has improved catch numbers wise every season. He has good size at a listed 6’5″ 222 lbs. His hands look soft, but the big question for the next level is if he can separate on a consistent basis. He’ll need to run a fast 40 time to get drafted, he might want to consider dropping his weight a little for the Combine. Also for Iowa State, the LT Jake Campos has a shot to be in a camp. His base is solid, he’s rarely on the ground – I wouldn’t say he’s an elite athlete, but sometimes guys like this stick – he just needs a little luck with his landing spot.
Miami (Fl.) RB Mark Walton is listed at 5’9″ 205 lbs, which might be a concern should he declare for the Draft. He has been dealing with an ankle injury and in the Duke Friday night game, had to come out of the game a couple of times. He has the ability to create from nothing, cut sharply and make people miss. He’s a little bit of Dion Lewis type in that he runs bigger than his size. He was also impressive as a receiver – you’ll see some backs with limited route trees, but they ask Walton to do more and that will help his stock. He also showed a willingness to stay on his feet when in pass protection. Hopefully he can stay healthy down the stretch – it will be interesting to see if the league drops him a little because of his lack of size – but certainly the tape is excellent.
With the loss of the Noonkick.com website, I’m limited to whatever games are shown on UK TV this season. That means no Fox games – and it seems a heavy East coast bias. So, it was my first Southern California watch of the season and heralded QB prospect Sam Darnold, still a redshirt sophomore, but #1 in many mocks. On the road in a difficult atmosphere, I thought he struggled for much of the night. In seeing him behind a injury hit offensive line, I thought of Brett Hundley. Darnold’s eyes were coming down to the rush very quickly – and for the most part was taking off after one read. He did show late in the game on a 4th down the ability to extend the play and then throw the ball – pulling a rabbit out of the hat when his team needed it most. When he has a first read open, the quick release is impressive – but he was holding the ball too long and staring down receivers, which led to his INT. The final nail in the coffin for the Trojans was his fumble, where he held the ball too long and loosely. This was my first detailed watch and I have to say anyone thinking #1 pick in the Draft should pump the brakes. If he continues to play behind that offensive line, he’ll develop bad habits and that would be a shame.
Darnold’s favourite receiver was Deontay Burnett. I came away impressed with his soft hands and consistency in terms of plucking the ball away from his frame. It was a shame he wasn’t featured more – but as a slot receiver (listed at 170 lbs) at the next level, he has talent.
When I watched Washington State QB Luke Falk in one game last year, he couldn’t reach the end zone with a 40 yard Hail Mary. That lack of arm strength likely led to his return as a senior. So, it was with great interest that I saw Falk rolling right and making a 40 yard on the money throw to the back of the end zone. Unfortunately his receiver dropped the pass. He then threw a 45 yard play, which his receiver caught, late in the first quarter – so it looks like his arm is a little stronger this year. Now, he was still holding the ball too long and taking too many sacks, but that has to be good news for his stock. Mayock can talk about arm strength not mattering all he wants – but if you don’t have the arm to make tight window NFL throws, or stretch the field vertically, your chances of being a top 100 pick are slim.
I watched the CBS game as it was on – and Georgia RB Nick Chubb made it time well spent. He went over 100 yards on just 16 carries. He has quick feet, is patient and gets skinny through creases. The main question is his lack of involvement in the passing game. Michel or Swift are in the game in obvious passing situations and after 18 catches as a freshman, he only has 10 since. It may prevent him from being a first round pick – but his ability as a runner is outstanding so he should still be a day two pick.
The other RB in this game Tennessee’s John Kelly found it tough sledding running the ball with just 44 yards on 16 carries. Unlike Chubb, he showed up as a receiver – although after one of his 4 catches he did fumble. Kelly has quick feet and I liked how he didn’t dance around when nothing was on – he got low and got what he could. Many would have tried to bounce outside too much – and against a fine Georgia defense he would have lost yardage. So, not a great stat game, but he did his best in tough circumstances.
My eyes were again drawn to Georgia ILB Roquan Smith, who looks like the real deal. He’s disciplined, you don’t see him overpursue, fast, can cover man-to-man and gets good depth in his zone drops. His speed is “plus”, with his only negative getting off blocks – but that can be said for many college LBs these days. For me, he’s better than the more talked about edge duo of Bellamy and Carter.
It’s not been an easy two games for Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald. His offense has been rather overmatched against Georgia and then Auburn. I thought he played better in this one than against Georgia, but some of his technical faults were still on display. He can read the whole field, but when he resets his feet it all looks rather slow and almost like he’s having to think about where his feet are. he also needs to process what he sees quicker – he wasn’t helped by his receivers not getting separation – but he did stare some balls down. His late INT was a stare down and then a ball too far inside. I liked his toughness and he has developmental potential, but in terms of an NFL ready signal caller, I think he’ll need some time.
I watched Auburn OG Braden Smith a lot last year and this was my second watch. He sprung Johnson’s early long run with a nice combo block – and did this throughout the game, plus pulled effectively. Against power though he struggles. He’s told to keep his weight down, but he lacks the anchor against big/strong NFL DTs, so he might not be as high of a pick as you might think from tape. I like watching him, but we’ll see what his weight is at the Combine.
I’ve been doing this for many years now and I’ve never been connected to scouts or front office personnel. I watch games and write what I see, and I don’t think I would ever change to become an “information gatherer”, which most tend to be these days. The downside to that is that it can be hard to get prospect lists. Over the years, I have relied on CBS’ Draft site – where I can usually download their top 1000 prospects, take out the ratings and get through as many names as I can. This year, they don’t have that – just a pre-season top 100, which looks dubious after I’ve wasted time watching some of the prospects on the list. This week I dug around in their old NFL Draft Scout backend site and managed to find a list of players. It led me to a few small school names and Idaho State OG Skyler Phillips. Playing right guard, but at 6’2″ and with “plus” flexibility, I would say his best pro position might be Center. I really liked how he sat in pass protection – I must type “plays too high” a lot each year, but not with Phillips. His initial punch is good, but I don’t know if he’s an elite foot athlete – so I would have a question as to how he would cope with NFL athletes. In the running game he made some good blocks. The best was to spring a TD on a screen pass, where he popped a LB on his butt with heavy hands. He can get square and seal, or wash players up the field, but as the game went on he got his feet driving on contact and got good movement. I would say he’s draftable, I would need to double check his athletic numbers – if they were better than I think he could push for the middle rounds. Clearly, an All-Star game invitation would help – so fingers crossed he gets the opportunity.